The hero you get to play in Iron Helm is just a step before retirement. All they need to do is clear one last monster-ridden dungeon to claim the pension. Moliclan is in relatively good shape for his age, and has already paid the deposit for the manor he will retire in afterwards. Armed with an axe and a torch, he twists his mustache and enters the dungeon...
Iron Helm is a light solitaire dungeon crawl game by Jason Glover, who is also the designer of Desolate. When I first tried Desolate (base game only), I didn't enjoy it and immediately sent it to JW. (He loved it). So when Iron Helm was released, I was afraid it would be just a reskin of Desolate and therefore not for me. Still, the artwork looked so charming that I wanted to give it a try despite my reservations. Now that the designer kindly offered the PnP for free, I grabbed the chance to satisfy my curiosity, and I'm glad I did.
The gameplay is a combination of resource management and push-your-luck. The latter is a mechanism I'm not usually fond of but it works well here. As soon as you equip your character with his starting weapons and skills, you are faced with two doors. You open the first one and decide if it's something you can/want to do. If so, you execute the upper part of the card. If not, you open the second door, but have to execute the bottom part of that card. This choice is based on both instinct and a bit of calculation: if the good cards have already been drawn, then you know to expect an ambush or a skirmish.
When you get to face an enemy, you roll dice, first for their attack and then for your own attack, applying any modifiers from dungeon cards, weapons or potions. Hero attacks require energy, so you have to make sure you don't run out of it too soon. Killed enemies give you loot and coins, and when you kill at least three, you gain a new skill. The end is triggered either when you enter the last room of the dungeon or when you collect ten 'eyeball' symbols from plot cards.
Plot cards are story snippets that ask you to make a decision that affects your morality: keep ignoring pleas for help, and points will be deducted from your final score. If you survive until the end, you have to face one of the three bosses. If you defeat them, you tally up the points and see whether you managed to gather enough coin to buy a fortress, a manor, a cottage or merely a humble hovel.
Iron Helm is a great dungeon crawl filler. Very light, but also fun and engaging. It has enough variability to sustain a few plays but eventually you will want to add the expansions in. If you order the game from the Game Crafter, that is. For us outside the US, this is only a PnP option, and the expansions are not available. For Spanish and Italian gamers, the good news is that the designer has arranged to release translated editions of the game in Europe in the near future.
If you get down to printing and building the game, just be a little patient: it has a lot of cards and counters but it will be worth your effort. Playing as an aged adventurer is a pleasant change from the standard superhero types, and if you roll well, you will get to retire to the manor of your dreams. Like Moliclan here, pictured outside his property *.
*The painting is 'Sarkis pouring wine' by Georgian naif painter, Niko Pirosmani.